| BIBLE Basics
Study 6: God and Evil
God and Evil | The Devil and Satan | Demons | Digressions (Witchcraft, What Happened In Eden?, Lucifer, The Temptation of Jesus, "War in Heaven") | Questions
Digression 21: War In Heaven
This is one of the most popular passages used to suggest that there was a rebellion in heaven amongst the angels, resulting in the devil and his angels being thrown down to earth, where, in the form of the serpent, they began to create trouble and sin on earth.
1. All that we have learnt so far in this study must be brought to bear on this passage. We have seen that angels cannot sin and that there can be no rebellion in heaven. Thus this passage - which is the only one of its kind - must be interpreted in a way that does not involve angels sinning or there being sinful angels making people sin on earth,seeing that sin comes from within us, not from outside of us (Mark 7:20-23).
2. The serpent is cast out of heaven, implying it was originally there. But the literal serpent in Eden was created by God out of the dust of the earth (Gen. 1: 24-25). There is no implication that the devil came down from heaven and got inside the serpent.
3. Note carefully that there is no reference here to angels sinning or rebelling against God, only to a war in heaven. There is no possibility of anyone fighting God in Heaven: "No one can oppose what I do" (Dt. 33:39 G.N.B.).
4. After the drama of vs. 7-9, v.10 says that there was "a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night". If vs. 7-9 occurred at the beginning of the world, before the time of Adam and Eve, how could it be said that after satan's fall there came salvation and the kingdom of God? After Adam's sin, mankind began its sad history of slavery to sin and failure - a state hardly to be described as "salvation" and the kingdom of God. There is rejoicing that the devil - the accuser - has been cast down to earth. Why should there be rejoicing if his coming to earth was the start of sin and disaster for man? If a fall from heaven to earth is understood figuratively rather than literally, as representing a fall from authority (as Is. 14:12; Jer. 51:53; Lam. 2:1; Matt. 11:23), much more sense can be made of all this. If all this happened before the time of Adam, or at least before the fall of man, how could the devil have been accusing "our brethren", seeing they did not then exist?
5. There is nothing indicating that all this happened in the Garden of Eden. A vital point is made in Rev. 1:1 and 4:1 - that the Revelation is a prophecy of "things which must shortly come to pass". It is not therefore a description of what happened in Eden, but a prophecy of things to happen at some time after the first century, when the Revelation was given by Jesus. Any who are truly humble to the Word will see that this argument alone precludes all attempts to refer Rev. 12 to the garden of Eden. The question has also to be answered as to why the identity of the devil and information about what happened in Eden should be reserved until the end of the Bible before being revealed.
6. "The great dragon was...that old serpent" (Rev. 12:9.) The dragon had " seven heads and ten horns" (v. 3), therefore it was not literally the serpent. It being called "that old serpent" shows that it had the characteristics of that serpent in Eden, in the sense of being a deceiver, as the serpent was. Similarly, "the sting of death is sin" (1 Cor. 15:56), but that does not mean that death is a literal snake. It has the characteristics of the snake, through it's association with sin.
7. The devil was cast down onto the earth and was extremely aggressive "because he knoweth that he hath but a short time" (v. 12). If the devil was cast down in Eden, he has had the opportunity to torment man throughout his long history - which is hardly having only "a short time" in which to wreak havoc.
8. How could the devil have deceived "the whole world" (v. 9) before he was thrown out of heaven, seeing that there was no one in the world before Adam?
9. V. 4 says that the dragon drew a third of the stars of heaven to the earth with his tail. If this is read literally - and Rev. 12 has to be read literally to support the popular interpretation - the sheer size of the dragon is immense - a third of the whole universe (or solar system at least ) could be contained just on his tail. There is no way the planet earth would be big enough to contain such a huge creature sprawling over it. Most stars are bigger than our earth - how then could a third of them land on earth? It has been estimated that a third of the stars would stretch for about five trillion miles. This is how long the dragon's tail would have to be! And remember that all this has happened, or will happen, after the first century A.D. when this prophecy was given.
10. In view of this and many other things in Rev. 12 (and the whole prophecy) which are just incapable of any literal fulfilment, it is not surprising that we are told first of all (Rev. 1:1) that this is a message that has been "signified" - i.e. put into sign language, or symbol. As if to emphasize this in the context of Rev. 12, Rev. 12:1 describes the subsequent action as "a great sign" (A.V. margin).
11. In reading of what the devil does when he is on the earth, there is no description of him causing people to sin; indeed, vs. 12-16 show that the devil was unsuccessful in his attempts to cause trouble on earth once he arrived there. This contradicts the popular interpretation.
12. One of the key questions in understanding whether this passage supports the idea of a literal war in heaven, is whether the "heaven" spoken of here is literal or figurative. We explained earlier that "heaven" can figuratively refer to a place of authority. Revelation being such a symbolic book, we would expect this to be the case here.
The woman of v. 1 is "clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars". These heavenly bodies, as well as the woman, apparently suspended in heaven, cannot be literal. She could not literally be clothed with the sun, or have stars as big as the earth on her literal head.
Another sign appears in heaven in v. 3 - a red dragon. This is commonly taken as literal heaven, but why should it be, seeing that the same heaven is referred to in v. 1 and that is clearly figurative? V. 4 shows the dragon casting a third of the stars of heaven to earth. We have seen that because of the size of the stars and earth, this cannot refer to literal stars or heaven.The Kingdom of God is to be established on earth (Dan. 2:44; Matt. 5:5), which will not be possible if the earth is destroyed (which it would be) by huge stars falling on to it.
The woman in "heaven" then delivered her child, who was "caught up unto God, and to His throne" (v. 5). God's throne is in heaven. If the woman was already in heaven, why would her child have to be "caught up" to heaven? She must have been a symbol of something on earth, although in a figurative "heaven". She then flees "into the wilderness" (v. 6). If she was in literal heaven, this means there is a wilderness in heaven. It is far more fitting for her to be in a figurative heavenly place, and then flee to a literal or figurative wilderness on the earth.
We then come to v. 7 - "there was war in heaven". All other references to "heaven" in Rev. 12 having been figurative, it seems only consistent that this was war in a figurative heaven. This must be the case, as there can be no rebellion or sin in literal heaven (Matt. 6:10; Ps.5:4,5; Hab. 1:13). The common view claims that wicked angels are locked up in hell; but here they are in heaven. They are not therefore literal angels.
The present writer sometimes asks those who believe in the orthodox idea of the devil the following question: 'Can you give me a brief Biblical history of the devil, according to your interpretation of Bible passages?' The response is highly contradictory. According to 'orthodox' reasoning, the answer has to be something like this:
From this it should be obvious that the popular view that the devil was cast out of Heaven for sinning cannot be true, seeing that he is described as still being in Heaven after each occurrence of being 'cast out'. It is vital to understand both 'Heaven' and the devil in a figurative sense.
1. To try and expound this chapter fully is outside the scope of our present notes. A full explanation of these verses requires an understanding of the entire book of Revelation in order to get them in context.
2. The conflict in figurative heaven - i.e. a place of authority - was therefore between two power groups, each with their followers, or angels. Remember that we have shown that the devil and satan are often associated with the Roman or Jewish systems.
3. That the devil-dragon represents some kind of political power is indicated by it having "crowns upon his heads" (v. 3). Rev. 17:9,10 also comments on this dragon: "Here is the mind that hath wisdom" - i.e. don't try and understand this animal as a literal being - "The seven heads are seven mountains...these are seven kings". One of the kings continuing "a short space" perhaps connects with the devil-dragon having "but a short time" in Rev. 12:12.